By Jeremy Herb
Despite pushback from the White House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the U.S. Olympic Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is not backing down from his call for the U.S. to consider boycotting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
Graham said Wednesday that he wasn’t surprised by the negative reaction to his comments, but said something had to be done to alter Russia’s attitudes and policy toward Syria, Iran and National Security Agency leaker Ed Snowden.
“Do I want to boycott the Olympics, absolutely not,” Graham told reporters. But if Russia continues to support Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime with weapons, provide cover to the Iran's nuclear program and grant Snowden asylum, Graham said, the U.S. should not attend.
“Would I accept an invitation of the Russian president? Heck no," he said.
Graham first suggested to The Hill on Tuesday that the U.S. should consider boycotting the Olympics if Moscow grants Snowden asylum.
“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham said.
The South Carolina senator’s comments quickly ran into resistance. Boehner on Wednesday said he was “dead wrong,” while the U.S. Olympic Committee said that boycotts don’t work and would only punish the athletes.
White House press secretary Jay Carney initially wouldn’t say whether the U.S. might boycott the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but when he was pressed he said that would be a bad idea.
"I'm not going to engage in speculation about that, and the Olympics are a long way off," Carney said.
Graham said that the Obama administration has “no clue” how to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He argued that widespread Syrian violence couldn’t prompt the Obama administration to change Moscow’s attitude toward Syria, “so let’s talk about sports.”
“I love the Olympics, but I love world peace, too,” Graham said.
“Would you have the Olympics in Iran? I doubt many people would say that’s a good idea,” he added. “I don’t think Russia is as bad as Iran, but [the Olympics] would be a great propaganda tool for them to showcase a regime that I think has really drifted in a bad way and is insulting to our country by harboring Snowden.”